At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.

Looking for answers in a time of uncertainty

Bob Scott. Bob Scott.

By Bob Scott • Guest Columnist | I am in the market for a good, slightly used, Ouija Board.  I need it to make accurate predictions of what is to come in Franklin and our westernmost counties as we face uncertain times and as we begin to reopen. 

COVID-19 has been devastating health-wise as well as economically. 

There will be some permanent losses. It is inevitable some of our businesses will not survive. 

As we reopen, we need to begin rethinking about where we live. We need to be looking at our density of population. A low density such as we have in the western counties is a plus. I predict as people from high density population areas begin rethinking where they live, we will see a resurgence in our population — we need to be planning for an influx of newcomers. Especially with interest rates as low as they are now. 

Have we gotten so accustomed to working from home, that we will not want to go back into offices? What will happen to office buildings? Will the demand for new offices slide by as we adapt to working from home? What if we like it?

Is teleworking the new norm? Will we decide we like meeting with people on screens rather than in person? I will have to relearn how to tie a tie as I have not worn a sport coat or suit in months. I may decide I never want to wear a tie again! I meet daily on some kind of Zoom virtual meeting. I don’t mind it because I have a huge hole in the knee of my jeans and no one can see it. Virtually, we exist only from the waist up. 

We are suffering from a lack of fast internet service, as are rural areas across North Carolina. I put the blame on the N.C. Legislature for being reluctant to allow local government to compete with the big-boy providers. The Legislature has given lip service to broad band with only a band aid solution. If telework and schoolwork continue online we must have better internet service wherever anyone lives. Our children are being schooled at home and many homes have no internet. Internet may not be available, or our residents cannot afford it. Not acceptable.

For some it has been a long drive to an area with internet service such as outside a library or a government building so students can download lessons and turn in assignments. 

Will we see more online classes and less on-site teaching as we reopen?

Will shopping become more online? Will we see grocery stores offering delivery? What long-term impact will that have on our local brick and mortar stores?   

Some of the worst losses affecting Southwestern North Carolina is due to our dependence in large part on the leisure, outdoor and hospitality businesses. They have been slammed. Will we ever get back to normal?

Towns out here are facing an approximate 30 percent drop in revenues, primarily due to a loss of sales taxes bolstered by tourism. 

My hope is that we will come back stronger from COVID-19 — with all it entailed — while experiencing whatever the new normal will be. We can and should support every local business, regardless of what it is. From the corner produce stand, farmer’s markets, to small retail shops. Local restaurants. I get highly agitated when I hear folks bragging about spending their money somewhere else. 

When will we recover officially? That is why I need a Ouija board. I can ask it. We are all in this together. Though not equally. Circle the wagons. The only thing for sure is that we have each other. 

Bob Scott is Mayor of Franklin, and past chair of the North Carolina Mayor’s Association. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Receive our FREE Friday Xtra newsletter

Go to top